Ottawa Senators Top 20 features mix of European and North American talent

By Peter Morrow

Curtis Lazar - Ottawa Senators

Photo: Forward Curtis Lazar currently leads the Edmonton Oil Kings with 39 goals and 32 assists in 57 games. Lazar was selected 17th overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2013 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

The Ottawa Senators youth movement is fully underway. At each position, prospects have become entrenched in Ottawa's roster, with Robin Lehner, Mika Zibanejad, and Patrick Wiercioch all playing full-time NHL roles. Cody Ceci might also stick with Ottawa, while former defense partner Mark Borowiecki is set to join full-time next season.

CHL veterans Chris Driedger and Francois Brassard, along with Sweden's Marcus Hogberg form a competitive trio of up-and-coming goaltenders. The host of forwards displaying promising progress is only growing larger, highlighted by breakout seasons from NCAA prospects Ryan Dzingel and Robbie Baillargeon. On the other end of the spectrum, top-scoring AHL talents Mike Hoffman and Stephane Da Costa are running out of time to establish NHL jobs.

1. (3) Curtis Lazar, C/W, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2013

Curtis Lazar rose to the occasion for Team Canada at the 2014 World Juniors in Malmo, Sweden, unlike several of his teammates. Head coach Brent Sutter confidently used him on the penalty kill, power play, center position, left and right wings. It was a small sample of what Lazar has been doing for years with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings. First in team goals with 36, second in points with 71 in 57 games, Lazar has been among the league's best two-way players. There is a potential franchise player in Lazar, but without a doubt he looks poised to make a positive impact for the Ottawa Senators – possibly starting in 2014-15.

2. (5) Cody Ceci, D, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2012

When Cody Ceci was recalled in December, he was not supposed to be that good, that quickly. Fleeting concerns about Ceci's defensive game appear unfounded, as he looks comfortable at both ends of the ice. While Ceci makes the occasional hiccup, but the mistakes have been pale in comparison to the rest of Ottawa's defense. He displays confidence rushing up with the play, particularly on Ottawa's second power play unit. Strong skating allows Ceci to control the pace at times, and the Senators are unlikely to re-assign a key piece of their blue line back to the minors.

3. (10) Chris Driedger, G, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 76th overall, 2012

Chris Driedger stood out in last year's playoffs, taking the Calgary Hitmen to within one game of the WHL championship playoff round. He is on pace  to repeat last year's regular season numbers, and the Hitmen are again challenging the Edmonton Oil Kings for the Eastern Conference lead. Driedger is the Senators' top goaltending prospect, and his fourth WHL campaign will likely be his last. Ottawa's AHL affiliate, Binghamton could use help between the pipes, and Driedger is ready for the next step. Backup goaltender Nathan Lawson is approaching free agency this summer, while Andrew Hammond is a restricted free agent in 2015. Driedger headlines a group of young talent vying for upcoming opportunity between the pipes in the organization.

4. (11) Mark Stone, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2010

Numbers do not tell the full story of Mark Stone's most recent NHL stint. His single goal and assist could have been bolstered, had he not suffered an injury during a late-January practice after only seven games played. He thrived on Jason Spezza's wing, making positive plays but often failing to capitalize. Most importantly Stone's speed has improved since previous call-ups, making his transition noticeably easier from AHL to NHL than in past years. His 13 goals, 18 assists points in 29 AHL games are a positive indication that his junior numbers were no fluke.

5. (8) Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2011

Jean-Gabriel Pageau leads a group of Ottawa Senators forward prospects trapped in the bubble between AHL dominance and NHL success. By virtue of his four goals, two assists in last year's NHL playoff run – including a hat trick – Pageau has proven he can excel under an intense spotlight. He followed up with a lack-lustre 21-game stint this fall, whereby he notched only two goals playing on the bottom lines. The recent sample indicates not that he was incapable of performing, but rather that he needs further development time.

Pageau has stayed healthy and offered consistent scoring on Binghamton's second line, helping Binghamton become the top offensive team in the AHL. He hovers at a point per game, along with a handful of others on the offensively-gifted Senators. If Ottawa makes the playoffs, it will be interesting to see if last year's playoff hero is given another shot.

6. (7) Mark Borowiecki, D, 6.5B
Drafted 5th round, 139th overall, 2008

For Mark Borowiecki, the time is near. He is guaranteed an NHL salary next season and set to join a seemingly backlogged blue line in Ottawa. While Borowiecki is no sure bet to thrive, the Senators know exactly what they are getting out of their 2008 pick.

He will be relied upon heavily for his defensive strengths – playing physical, preventing scoring and making a safe first pass out of the defensive zone. Borowiecki has offered little on the offensive side, but no matter. His defensive partner earlier this season was Cody Ceci in Binghamton, before he earned his stay with Ottawa in December. The pair were dominant in the AHL, and if all pans out the two could re-unite in 2014-15.

7. (13) Mike Hoffman, W/C, 6.5B
Drafted 5th round, 139th overall, 2008

The pressure is on for Mike Hoffman. In the midst of a push to crack the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Ottawa Senators recalled the 24-year-old Hoffman from Binghamton. The move was a risky one, but the potential for success is undoubtedly there and the Senators need immediate scoring help. Hoffman sits second in AHL scoring with 30 goals, 37 assists in 51 games. His speed is NHL caliber, as evidenced by his victory at the AHL's All-Star skating competition in St. John's. Hoffman's size and strength are not ideal however. He has been given ample power-play time on the first unit by head coach Paul MacLean and he fits in well. For his own sake, Hoffman must break out of his shell this time around, when the Senators need it most.

8. (NR) Ryan Dzingel, C, 7.0C
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2011

It has been a breakout college season for Ryan Dzingel. He leads the Big Ten Conference scoring race with 10 goals and 11 assists and is 16th overall in the nation with 18 goals and 22 assists. Dzingel's speed complements his goal-scoring instincts in the offensive zone, and he looks comfortable in the defensive zone. Dzingel has notched 100 points over his collegiate career before concluding his junior season, a rare feat in itself. He has leapt forward in each of his college seasons, and he could soon join a stacked forward corps in Binghamton.

9. (9) Matt Puempel, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2011

As the youngest forward on the Binghamton Senators roster, Puempel has lots of room to grow. An NHL opportunity is unlikely to arrive this season, or possibly even next. With a handful of talented, older forwards on the cusp of cracking Ottawa's roster, Puempel is not among the likely call-ups quite yet. Having spent the bulk of his time on Binghamton's third line, Puempel is now seeing top line minutes following the recent call-up of Mike Hoffman. The move makes sense on paper, as Puempel sits second in team goal-scoring with 22 behind Hoffman's 30.

At 20 years old Puempel has no trouble scoring goals in the AHL, and he has time to upgrade the rest of his game for an eventual NHL call-up. In the long run, both Puempel and the Ottawa Senators can expect to reap the benefits.

10. (12) Shane Prince, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 61st overall, 2011

Shane Prince could be due for an NHL call-up, sooner rather than later. He has produced 17 goals, 18 assists playing most of the 2013-14 AHL season on Binghamton's third line. The problem for Prince is that among Binghamton's forwards listed under 6'0 in height, Prince sits third in points. Just behind him on that list is Pageau, who has played 16 less games. While Prince is beginning to showcase the goal-scoring he displayed in the OHL for the Ottawa 67's from 2011-12, he remains overshadowed by forwards with similar skillsets.

Despite the precarious situation for Prince, he is only 20 years old. Whether or not he fits into the Senators organization's future plans, he could certainly bring some high-end skill and scoring into most NHL organizations.

11. (19) Mikael Wikstrand, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 196th overall, 2012

Mikael Wikstrand continues to thrive overseas, playing at home in Sweden's professional system. He is the top-ranked European prospect on this list, due largely to his progression across the past two campaigns. He stood out as a 19-year-old last season, leading Mora IK defenceman scoring in Sweden's Allsvenskan league. This season, he was second in team scoring before joining Frolunda HC in the SHL, where he's recorded 11 points in 19 games to date.

Defensively, Wikstrand is no slouch. Listed at 6'2, 196 pounds, his size and mobility allow him to cover the defensive zone. He is not overly physical, but Wikstrand's ability with the puck could make him a valuable asset in Ottawa's system. Wikstrand is a burgeoning offensive defenceman, expected to bring his talents soon to North American ice.

12. (15) Stephane Da Costa, C, 6.5C
Signed as free agent, March 31st, 2011

Just when it looked as if Da Costa might keep a spot with the big club, the Olympic break intervened. For years Da Costa has struggled to adapt to the NHL pace, playing short stints with Ottawa before enduring long stretches with Binghamton. Da Costa kept producing at the AHL level, recording a point per game prior to an NHL call-up this past January. He recorded three goals and an assist, but the streak was cut short by the Olympic break. He returned to Binghamton, where he is likely to stay put for the rest of the season.

Da Costa may be out of time – he may never reach the NHL stage on a full-time basis, at least with Ottawa. Nonetheless his puck skills and offensive instinct is among the best for Ottawa's prospects and he can dominate at the AHL level.

13. (14) Fredrik Claesson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round 126th overall, 2011

Frederik Claesson is 21, and only a step behind 24 year-old Mark Borowiecki in terms of his contributions to the Binghamton Senators' blue line. Claesson is a hard worker, and has been improving steadily since he moved from Sweden to North America at 19 years old. Physical and reliable defensive play is the cornerstone of Claesson's game, reflected by his league-leading plus-34 rating, which is over 20 points higher than any of his teammates in that category. Not to be overlooked are Claesson's point totals, which have already doubled since his debut AHL season in 2012-13. His two goals, 20 assists rank him second among Binghamton defensemen in points. Claesson's consistent play has already earned much praise from head coach Luke Richardson, as he makes his way toward NHL-readiness.

14. (NR) Francois Brassard, G, 6.5C
Drafted 166th overall, 6th round, 2012

Perhaps overshadowed by his 2012 NHL Draft counterpart Chris Driedger, Francois Brassard has quietly had a strong junior career. Brassard has led the Quebec Remparts into a top-10 position within the QMJHL standings, boasting a 27-12-3-5 record during his starts. The upside is high for Brassard, but at 6'2 and 165 pounds, he needs to bulk up significantly. His .907 save percentage is seventh, and his 2.99 goals against average is ninth in the league.

Still a project, he has improved each area of his game since being drafted and must continue to do so. With improved strength and conditioning, Brassard's talent alone can carry him into a professional career.

15. (16) Derek Grant, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 119th overall, 2008

A workhorse on a team loaded with skill, Derek Grant contributes everything but consistent scoring for the Binghamton Senators. A strong penalty-killer and defensively sound five-on-five, Grant can skate, check and shut down opponents with efficacy. He makes simple, smart decisions with the puck, and rarely makes the risky play. He played 20 games for the Ottawa Senators as a steady, reliable fourth-line center, scoring zero goals and notching two assists over that span.

Under Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean, who rolls four lines almost regularly, Grant can confidently play his role as a defensive forward specialist. If he returns to play for Ottawa, it will be precisely to fulfill that role. With improved work in the offensive zone, Grant can establish a spot in Ottawa's roster going forward.

16. (20) Vincent Dunn, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2013

Opponents have to be aware when Vincent Dunn is on the ice. While only 5'11, 172 pounds, Dunn can hurt the opposition both physically and on the scoreboard. Through 48 games he has collected 154 penalty minutes, earning four league suspensions across that span. He drops the gloves, hits hard, and generally wreaks havoc in the offensive zone. The penalties and suspensions are costly, but his energy alone is something to be valued, not to mention his 46 points and 26 goals. Dunn is one of the most hated players in the QMJHL, but undeniably effective at his role.

17. (17) Marcus Hogberg, G, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2013

This season, Marcus Hogberg has missed the mark during his debut pro season. He has hardly played since joining Linkopings HC of the SHL, loaned to Mora IK of Sweden's Allsvenskan league for 15 games before returning in February. At this year's World Juniors, Hogberg served as back-up to Oscar Dansk (CLB) of the silver medal-winning Swedish team.

Big, athletic, and talented, Hogberg draws some comparisons to Ottawa Senators' backup Robin Lehner.

18. (NR) Robbie Baillargeon, C, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 136th overall, 2012

As a freshman, Robbie Baillargeon leads the Boston University Terriers in points. He quickly worked his way up to the top line via consistency in all three zones. He displays crisp passing, stick-handling, and a two-way game. A consistent force on Boston's top six, he will continue to lead the Terriers into 2014-15, who lack experience and high-end talent throughout their roster. He is trusted in all situations, a rare trait for most NCAA freshmen. The learning curve continues to shorten as Baillargeon climbs the Senators' depth charts.

19. (NR) Max McCormick, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 171st overall, 2011

Right behind Ryan Dzingel is Max McCormick, as Ohio State's two leading scorers this season are both Ottawa Senators prospects. McCormick's 11 goals, 17 assists through 32 appearances are tied for 12th in the Big 10, and despite his 5'11 stature, he plays with a physical edge. He leads the Buckeyes in penalty minutes with 40, but can kill penalties when needed. Capable in all situations, McCormick's versatility gives him an edge going forward to challenge for NHL roster spots. A long shot when drafted, McCormick's past two seasons alongside Dzingel have looked promising.

20. (NR) Ben Harpur, D, 6.0C
Drafted 4th round, 108th overall, 2013

The transition from forward to defense was seamless for Ben Harpur. He switched just prior to joining the Guelph Storm in 2011-12, and has been a rising OHL star since. At 19 years old he may grow past his current 6'6, 210 pound frame, which is an exciting idea for the Senators. His skating could improve, but his intelligence, poise, and decision-making with the puck are already there. He is strictly a stay-at-home defenseman, tending not to carry the puck out of his zone.

Harpur's overall progression through his OHL career – simply adapting to the position – has looked positive thus far. If he can continue to improve mobility and overall strength, he should be on track for an NHL career.

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